HOISINGTON — In a joint meeting of the USD 431 school board and the Hoisington City Council, Christina Hayes, prevention consultant for the Regional Prevention Center of NWKS, presented data to the boards and approximately 60 patrons on the Communities that Care survey data which shows that Barton County teens have higher than state averages in alcohol use and cigarette use.
In 2010, 41.7 percent of Hoisington school students used alcohol in the last 30 days, while the state-wide number was 25.6 percent. The percentage of Hoisington students who reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days was 13.2 percent, while the state average was 9.8 percent.
"We have good kids, but some are making bad decisions," said Bill Lowry."We want to help kids make better decisions."
The Communities that Care Survey is given to 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders each year.
One of the risk factors is norms favorable to alcohol and drug use. "It’s never a good thing to provide alcohol to minors," Hayes said. She spoke of a culture in Barton County that "the mind set is it is a rite of passage to provide alcohol."
Alcohol use by teens may seem harmless, but in fact, it is not. "The youth brain is not fully developed until age 24," Hayes said. "The damage can be drastic because bodies are not developed. If they drink heavily at age 16, it can damage the brain," so maturation of the brain can stop at age 16 and hinder development.
She said that there is so much more medical information about brain development than there used to be. "Addiction can happen in six months to two years for a youth. In adult males over age 21, it takes on average 10-15 years and an adult female takes on average seven to 10 years because the brain is fully developed."
"Retailers are in compliance and aren’t typically selling to minors, so teens are getting it from friends and family," said Hayes.
She spoke of the phases of addiction. Phase one is learning the mood swing. Phase two is seeking the mood swing by choosing to go out and get drunk. Phase three is harmful dependence which includes blacking out. Phase four is using to feel normal so that you must have a drink first thing in the morning. Youth go through the phases much more quickly.
In addition, new stricter underage drinking laws concerning social hosting and underage drinking. A teen can receive a felony charge for using a false ID due to 9/11 laws.
Hayes said, "I am anti-underage drinking." She said she is not anti-drinking for responsible adults. "Remember alcohol is a drug and people make bad decisions because of alcohol. It is important for parents to do the research."
The Hoisington community is in the process of forming a task force to help combat this problem. Monday night, 16 people signed up for the task force.